It was my usual nap time, and I was yawning, hence the cup of frozen cappuccino in my hand. Sundays are, after all, for Sabbath rest, and I usually try to comply with a weekly nap.
But yesterday was different because it was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. So I sipped my coffee in hopes that my eyes that would be closed in prayer would not drift off into slumber. The saints had golden bowls to fill with prayer. We gathered in a classroom auditorium, only sixty or seventy in a space made for two hundred, and I felt inadequate to meet such need as I saw around me. There were too many empty chairs, and too many persecuted countries and people groups, and not enough time.
We heard reports from Eli Fader, a missionary to Sudan asking for prayer regarding the six-year peace agreement between the warring North and South that comes to an end this January 9, 2011. Should the south secede from the Islamic north, an iron curtain will fall upon the people of the north shutting out any evangelism or Christian missionary work. Should the Christian south reconcile with the north, they will be overpowered by the Muslims, no longer free to Christian worship.
How to pray?
Paul introduced himself as a "Muslim-background believer" when we shook hands just before the program began. He's a Turk who is no longer Muslim, a contradiction in terms, an identity torn in two. Yet he stood in the flesh before me with the quavering voice of a college student broken for his homeland.
Struggling for composure at the podium, he asked volunteers to pray for his Christian countrymen to look to Jesus rather than focus on their persecution. That fear would not hold them captive from their faith, and that they would respond with love and forgiveness toward their persecutors. He mentioned the recent murder of a German missionary and his wife's opportunity to speak with the Turkish reporters. On the very day of her husband's murder, she looked through the camera to the eye of every Muslim Turk and publicly forgave those who took her husband's life.
We heard from Sainey Fatty, a native of Gambia, a small western African nation. He came to the US to study in New York, but what he learned in America was the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
"Gambia is ignorant of all things Christian, and what they do know is false," he says.
His family has disowned him these seventeen years, and his visa is soon to expire. Without an extension from Attorney General Eric Holder, he will be deported in December to certain death in Gambia for his conversion to Christianity. (Senator Graham and Congressman Wilson are working on behalf of his visa petition.)
He said people have called him brave. "But I am not brave. I was afraid. Afraid to die without Christ."
Among his prayer requests was a desire to see Gambian Christians be willing to return to their nation to speak the gospel. Absent from his requests was a plea for his own uncertain and precarious future. That concern was raised by Sam Elijah, the organizer of the event, an Indian missionary come to evangelize America.
We heard from representatives of China, Nigeria, and India. Prayer requests that money would not tempt the Chinese church to compromise with a communist government, and for aging Chinese house church pastors. Seventy and eighty years of age is no match for communist prisons. We prayed that government officials in Nigeria would stop denying that fifty years of civil unrest is indeed religious persecution and much more than politics. We prayed that suffering for the kingdom would not become a stumbling block. That God would strengthen Indian Christians to resist their government's agenda to make Hindu the national religion, making religious conversion illegal.
The translator on the screen said, "When they pressed the broken bottle to my stomach, I cried out, 'Lord, help me! I do not want to deny you.'" Today that girl bears scars of her faith, and a testimony of a faithful God.
Not only is persecution a human tragedy, it's a spiritual reality. And I am obligated to my brothers and sisters who risk it all to serve the Lord. It's my responsibility, my honor, to pray for them. It is the least and the most I can do.
Will we not give one sleepy afternoon in prayer on behalf of their affliction? Can we not fill the golden bowls to overflowing at the feet of Jesus?
As I set my empty coffee cup on the floor at my feet, my western ease and luxury pressing hard against my full belly, I cried out, "Lord, help me! I do not want to deny you!"
So I did not fall asleep yesterday afternoon -- I did battle. And Christ won.
Moments later, I sped home, westward into a glorious sunset, like heroes do at the end of fairy tales. I don't feel like a hero. But I think I have prayed for a few ... with a few. I smile, and the Holy Spirit winks his fire-tinged sky in my direction. I think of the light rising on the other side of the horizon on my persecuted siblings. Because my day was ending, theirs was just beginning.
: : :
In light of that day, I count more blessings.
307 ~ that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even persecution
208 ~ my bible - every. single. page.
309 ~ that owning a bible is a tremendous responsibility
310 ~ that prayer is, too
311 ~ we are alien and stranger to this world
312 ~ the Spirit of God Who unites us into one body with Christ as the head
313 ~ that every nation and tribe and people and tongue will be there
314 ~ peace, security, freedom to worship without risk of bodily harm
315 ~ that I've been given much, and much will be required
316 ~ one afternoon in prayer -- not much, but little
317 ~ brave heroes who are afraid to be without Christ
318 ~ riding off into the sunset
319 ~ persecution and luxury both overcome so as not to deny our Lord
a holy experience. Join us, won't you?